On Wednesday (3/15/17), The Gospel Coalition published an article by Megan Hill called Minimalism is Not the Gospel. I do not regularly follow The Gospel Coalition (TGC), but a friend of mine directed me to this article, simply because of my interest in minimalism.
My wife and I read this article together, and both of us were left with a funny taste in our mouths. It took a while to figure out why we felt so critical of it, but we came to a few conclusions. These conclusions were things that I felt others needed to think through, so I left a long comment on TGC’s article. However, my comment was never posted and is still sitting in my Disqus profile as being “marked as spam.” We’ll see if that changes.
There really is no reason for it to be marked as spam. Maybe it’s a computer-monitored thing that suspected it as spam because of its length. Whatever the reason, since it was marked spam, I decided to address this issue here.
Now, first of all, let me say that I agree with the author with regard to the title: minimalism is not the gospel. However, what the author presents as minimalism and as the gospel are both reductionistic.
Before acknowledging the shortcomings of this article, it is noteworthy to point out that the author is not, nor has ever been, a minimalist. It would seem that an article about a lifestyle such as minimalism should come from someone who has spent more than a week living that lifestyle. Not only that, but it should probably come from someone living a minimalistic lifestyle on purpose, rather than in order to sell a house.
With that out of the way, I want to suggest to you that this author makes a category mistake. Minimalism and gospel, understood rightly, should not even be considered as equals or opposites. But to understand why this is so, it is important to acknowledge what minimalism and the gospel actually are. This first post will look at the topic of minimalism, while the second will specifically look at the gospel.
Megan Hill, speaking of The Minimalists, says, “Their thesis is that ‘everyone is looking for more meaning in their lives’ and that people will find true happiness when they live ‘deliberately with less.'” Hill then goes on to compare the joy and happiness found from minimalism with the joy and happiness that one finds with regard to the gospel. She says, with Marie Kondo in mind, “Tidying up is the death that brings new life.”
However, this interpretation of minimalism is lacking. The Minimalists themselves define minimalism as being a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom. Joshua Becker, from Becoming Minimalist, defines it similarly. He says, Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. For good measure, I’ll add my definition as well: Minimalism is about minimizing the unimportant in order to maximize the important.
Simply removing all the unnecessary junk in one’s life does not make one a minimalist. Minimalism doesn’t stop with removal. One does not simply have a good life because they removed of all their junk. Key words in the definitions above are “so you can,” “intentional promotion,” and “in order to.” A minimalist is one who removes the unnecessary so that they can focus on what is actually important. Therefore, in essence, Minimalism can be a beneficial aid in helping a Christian live more in line with Christian values, to live out a gospel-centered life.
Hill does, however, recognize that there is some truth in minimalism. She says, “In our pursuit of stuff, we become thoughtless stewards of creation and poor neighbors to those who produce goods in unsafe conditions for unfair wages.” She is absolutely right. What I am saying, though, is that minimizing does not directly result in happiness; rather, it makes that result possible. From a Christian standpoint, then, one is able to use minimalism as a tool to pursue a life that glorifies and honors God.
Hill then goes on to speak of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. As one commenter rightly noted, Hill seems to misinterpret Christian’s (the character) problem. This commenter is specifically referring to the depravity of man, or original sin. The character, Christian, comes to face a similar issue as the reformer, Martin Luther, being burdened by his sin, acknowledging that he is deserving of God’s wrath.
However, as will become clearer in the coming post, I think that Bunyan’s view of the gospel is a little reductionistic as well, though this is not the place to flesh that out. Nevertheless, speaking of the character in Bunyan’s book, Hill says, “Christian finds freedom not in lifestyle changes or donations at the local charity shop but in Christ.” However, in Bunyan’s book, this freedom is from God’s judgment. It is freedom from the burden of sin. Minimalism never suggests that.
Minimalism does suggest freedom; one just needs to look at Joshua Becker’s article, What is Minimalism? But the freedom that minimalism offers is not the same thing as freedom from the burden of sin.
In the end, it is important to note that minimalism is simply a tool. A tool that helps one be intentional. True minimalism allows a Christian, or any other religious person, to give more attention to their faith. It allows people, whether religious or not, to focus on what really matters to them.